Up to 2,400 migrant children will be temporarily housed at Freeman Coliseum, county leaders say

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said children would arrive in San Antonio next week; agreement ends in 60 days

SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County leaders have entered a deal with the federal government to provide temporary shelter at Freeman Coliseum to migrant children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without an adult family member.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff spoke about the agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during a press conference at the county courthouse on Friday afternoon.

As many as 2,400 unaccompanied migrant children will be housed at the expo halls at Freeman Coliseum starting next week, Wolff said. The 60-day agreement will terminate on May 30, he said.

“We didn’t have to do this. We have chosen to do this as a humanitarian effort,” Wolff said.

The events arena — located next to the AT&T Center, where the San Antonio Spurs play — is “probably better than any other migration site in the United States,” Wolff said. The staff and children will have access to basic needs as well as internet and TV access.

Wolff said he expected that most children would be at the facility for five to seven days and would then either be released to a family member in the United States or to a licensed care facility in San Antonio that handles refugees including St. Peter’s and St. Joseph’s or Seton Home.

“These children will not be deported back to their home country,” Wolff said.

The county charged HHS the “standard rate” to rent the building and officials said the county would be reimbursed for any other costs incurred.

“We are a hospitable town,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores. “If this helps alleviate the overcrowding at the border, then who are we to tell children ‘No, you are not welcome.’”

Expo Hall 1 will be divided into three sections -- two for housing the children and one for recreation and dining.

The second expo hall will be used for staff.

The Federal Protective Service will provide security outside the building and a private, licensed firm will provide security inside the buildings, he said.

The Bexar County Fire Marshal’s Office will provide 24-hour fire watch service.

Wolff said as part of the negotiations, HHS has agreed to provide cots with bedding, daily recreation, medical and mental health services, hot meals and snacks, as well as portable showers and port-a-potties. Each child will also be given a set of clothing and shoes upon arrival.

HHS will run the facility and the county will provide tables and chairs and entertainment equipment for movies and TV.

Catholic Charities will provide supportive services.

Local organizations who want to donate items should contact HHS.

The children will be tested for COVID-19 before coming to the Freeman Coliseum and then will be tested every five days while they’re here, Wolff said.

Children who test positive while they’re here will be isolated in an on-site medical facility.

Wolff said the immigrants should not put a strain on our local hospitals and said that the county has the option of ending the contract early in the case that we would need to use the facilities.

“If your child had a crisis or an emergency and ran to their neighbor on the north and your neighbor to the north didn’t open their door, what would you think of that neighbor,” Clay-Flores said.

According to an Associated Press report, more than 16,000 unaccompanied children were in government custody as of Thursday, including about 5,000 in substandard Customs and Border Protection facilities.

The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland would also be used to house unaccompanied migrant children, but Wolff said Lackland would not facilitate as many children as Freeman will.

You can watch the county’s full press conference in the video player at the top of this article.

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Bexar County has entered a deal with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide temporary shelter at Freeman Coliseum to migrant children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without a family member.

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Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 25 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.